To Hull with it

To Hull with it

January 22, 2024


Fable Pictures creative director Hannah Farrell outlines how Channel 4 series Hullraisers balances the portrayal of real-life problems facing its three central protagonists with moments of outlandish, heightened comedy.

Hannah Farrell

Season one of Hullraisers follows the lives of trio Toni, Paula and Rana as they juggle life, love and kids in a north-eastern corner of God’s own country, Yorkshire.

Struggling actor Toni (Leah Brotherhead) is in denial about how much fun a mum in her 30s can have and is determined to live life like her 20s never ended, which is hard to do when you’ve got a seven-year-old daughter and a (very patient) long-term partner. Rana (Taj Atwal) has the life Toni would die for – she’s a determinedly single super-cop with a revolving door of Hull’s hotties and every week she has a new man, though they don’t come without drama. Toni’s sister Paula (Sinead Matthews), on the other hand, is content where she is: namely, happily married in Hull; more specifically, on the sofa eating squirty cream.

Hullraisers is the first comedy we’ve produced at Fable, but like our previous works – films Stan & Ollie, Wild Rose and Rocks and miniseries Anne Boleyn – it has all of the values that we as a company hold and thread through everything we put on screen. The ethos at Fable centrally focuses on mainly (but not always!) female, distinctive stories told through a new perspective.

Our projects always have some form of aspirational quality, and hopefully a little something that adds to a conversation or issue. We do this through characters that feel relatable and storytelling that feels soulful. We’re so very lucky to work with some of the best British talent on and off screen. Hullraisers is the perfect example of that.

As a team of working-class female producers, we wanted to make a show that created characters we recognised, putting female voices at the forefront. Hullraisers is a joyful, anarchic and heartwarming show but it always keeps its feet firmly on the ground. No matter how outlandishly Toni, Paula and Rana behave, every situation and conversation needs to feel as if it could happen in real life.

Every aspect of how we develop and shoot the show has a rigour of testing its authenticity, ensuring every scene feels grounded no matter how ridiculous the characters may be or how heightened the comedic moment. This speaks right to the heart of everything we make and develop at Fable – the relatability and mindfulness to be authentic to the world and its characters.

L-R: Taj Atwal, Leah Brotherhead and Sinead Matthews star in Hullraisers

Our writers Caroline Moran and Anne-Marie O’Connor are vital to this on Hullraisers. They bring a magical quality to the scripts, balancing the comedy and the truthfulness of these women’s stories. They’re also not afraid to tackle some serious issues along the way, which again I think grounds the show. Ian Fitzgibbon, our director, is also a key part of how this all comes together – his genius with tone and the working environment he creates is the beating heart of Hullraisers. We work hard to achieve this, but we have a lot of fun along the way.

Part of making a funny show that also feels real is addressing difficult topics that affect many of our viewers. For example, in this second season, we touch on miscarriage, menopause and the cost-of-living crisis. We’re really conscious of how the show tackles these issues without ever being flippant or, conversely, shifting the tone of an episode too drastically into drama.

This is testament to the writing, direction and acting that goes into each one. Our characters feel like real people who, because of their particular personalities, find themselves in heightened situations. So when we do address a topic, the truth of our characters means we take the audience along with us. We want viewers to laugh at Hullraisers, but also look at these characters and say, ‘I recognise that in my own world.’

Picking one scene that encompasses this is impossible, but one moment that comes to mind is a scene from episode three, where our characters are discussing the housing crisis and devise a plan to put people off buying their rented home. It’s an incredibly heightened moment – we delve into a ‘play within a play,’ but it showcases each of the brilliant cast of the central family, doing what they do best, making us howl with laughter while also showing us the truth of their world.

The series is produced and written by working-class women

We have Toni worrying about her partner flirting with the ‘friendly’ neighbour, we have Rana introducing a new partner at work who could be trouble and Paula distracted by the ‘sex off’ she’s initiated with husband Dane after he refuses to get a vasectomy.

As this first scene kicks off the ongoing drama and high stakes of Toni losing her house, and how it’s affecting her young daughter, it also launches three devastatingly funny storylines that form the backbone of this episode. Toni goes on a journey to bring back her old ‘flirt master’ techniques to disastrous consequences, Paula and Dane’s sex-off escalates to him performing Magic Mike style in the local DIY store, and Rana’s proved right when she teaches her new partner a thing or two about the ‘true face of Hull.’

This opening scene is just magical in capturing the tone of our show. We can talk about real issues and paint a real world around our characters, but we can also go to outrageous and edgy places and still bring all the heart that this show is built on. It’s the wonderful performances of our cast that make the show relatable, and the opening of episode three showcases these brilliant actors perfectly.

It also highlights the intergenerational quality of the show – it brings in Toni’s daughter Grace, and Nima, the grandmother, who acts as a wise oracle figure knowing exactly how their various predicaments will play out, but enjoying all their mistakes along the way.

All these women are the backbone of the show and, alongside the wider family, they provide a view of what living in Britain looks like today. To be putting this show on people’s TV screens, produced and written by working-class women, with a cast of funny feisty females in a real working-class space, is exactly why Fable exists. And to bring a little joy into people’s living rooms.

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